Disagreements often occur in the art world. After all, art is not arithmetic. There are no right or wrong answers. That said, a current argument is both unexpected and uncertain.

The new arithmetic

Art News Magazine reports that in an open letter signed by 2,000 artists, including film actress Tilda Swinton (“Olando”) and TV actor Sam Heughan (“Outlander”), demanded the immediate end to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza causing “grave human rights violations.”

By the righteous tone of the letter, you’d think that Hamas, the militant group governing Gaza, was minding its own business when Israel suddenly opted to bomb the city.

Israel’s response to the letter noted “the complete absence of any mention of over 200 people kidnapped, most of them civilians, including babies, children, old and sick people.”

Where’s the rest of the story?

Haaretz News, a daily report on Israel and Palestine territories, pointed out that while thousands from the art world were denouncing Israel, they failed to mention that the Hamas’ militia broke through barrier fences and went on a killing spree.

So, the question nags: Where was the outrage from the art world when along with kidnapping 200 Israelis, Hamas slaughtering some 1,400 and wounded 3.500?

The answer suggested itself in the article posted by Hyperallergic under the headline “Art organizations around the world go on strike in support of Gaza.”

Illustrating the article was an image of a watermelon, a longtime symbol of Palestinian Liberation.

Art history repeating itself

This wasn’t the first time that artists have shown a jaundiced eye toward the Jewish people. Degas was fiercely anti-Semitic. This was particularly noticeable in his vociferous defense of the anti-Semitic French military court.

That court falsely accused captain Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jew, of treason, and sentenced him to life on Devil's Island.

Even after the actual traitor was identified, the French army suppressed the evidence, and refused to free Dreyfus. Degas continued to rail publicly against Dreyfus. And not just him. Cezanne, Rodin, and Renoir, too.

A 1987 essay by art historian Linda Nochlin told the story under the title “Degas and the Dreyfus Affair: A Portrait of the Artist as an Anti-Semite.”

Nochlin said that despite Dreyfus’ acquittal, “the scandal fueled anti-Semitism.

Renoir, for instance, refused to have his work hung in the same exhibit with the painter Camille Pissarro, who was Jewish.

Did the Mideast conflict fuel anti-Semitism in those 2,000 artists who fault Israel alone? Hard to prove, but Nochlin said that when it comes to Degas, “the evidence of anti-Semitism is overwhelming.”

Examples include Degas throwing a model out of his studio for sympathizing with Dreyfus, screaming at her that she was Jewish. (She was Protestant).

And when Degas was reminded that he once was friendly with Pissarro and praised his work, he answered: "That was before Dreyfus."

Before and after

Can that be the new excuse for those who say they are not anti-Semitic – “that was before”... fill in the blank?